L & I — Day 2: My Own Devices

Chaos in Print

There’s only one problem when you’re a morning person and none of your friends are. Do you know how many mornings I’ve wasted waiting for people to wake up? There I was, up bright and early at 9 am, and waiting on L. What can I say? When that sunshine smacks me in the face, I just know there’s no point in trying to go back to sleep. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to be productive. But, all my friends tend to be nocturnal, meaning the day doesn’t start until lunch.
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L & I — Day 1: Arrival

We all reach points in our lives where we just want to get away for a while. That’s why we invented vacations. I had reached such a point. So, after some e-mail negotiations with L, I decided to head on down to Camrose and spend some time with her, and her three attractive roommates. At first, I was a little nervous about this trip. L and I have never really hung out together without Chuck (her boyfriend) around. I was fearful it would end up like that Seinfeld episode. When Jerry cancels on an evening out, George and Elaine decide to go it alone, and discover that they have absolutely nothing in common. As always, to mask my nervousness, I started making jokes. I started teasing Chuck about how I was doing this to steal his girlfriend and all that. But then, something really weird happened. Throughout the jokes, I was soon able to convince myself that I might actually be capable of stealing her away from Chuck. As I departed for Camrose, I was fearful of one of two extremes happening:
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The List On The Fridge Door

Chaos in Print

My parents and I were having a discussion the other day. My dad was talking about this former co-worker of his who is now working another job. One day, she was told to head out to the field and supervise a work crew. So, she headed out to the field. A few hours, her boss decided to check up on her. The boss arrives, only to discover her napping in her truck! He woke her up, and asked her why she wasn’t doing her job. To this, she replied that she was doing what she was told to do, and that she could supervise just fine from the cab of her truck. This annoyed the boss, because to supervise, you were supposed to be leave your truck, walk amongst the crew, and take the odd sample and check up on their work, not nap in your truck and lift your head up every once in a while.

My mother soon shared similar stories from her experience with the school division. She told us stories of students told to take out the garbage. When the students do it, they just plop the trash on the school’s front steps. When inquired as to why they did this, the student’s general response is, “You just said take it out. You said nothing about putting it in the dumpster.” There were similar responses and explanations with a request like, “Take these documents down to the paper shredder.” The students just put the highly sensitive documents next to the shredder, and don’t shred them. But, the supreme story was with these family friends. They had just returned from grocery shopping with $300 of meat. The mother said to her kids, “Take the meat downstairs.” So, the kids did that. A few days later, the mother starts asking “What’s that smell?” She opens the basement door to find $300 of meat neatly stacked at the bottom of the stairs, with the deep freeze just a few steps away. When she asked her kids why they didn’t put the meat away, they said, “You just wanted us to take it downstairs. You said nothing about putting it away.”

My dad called it a “lack of vision.” My mom called “weak critical thinking skills.” Whatever you call it, the problem is clear. The current generation being brought up is lacking the deductive reasoning to figure out what the next logical step is. And, if they are figuring it out, they just aren’t doing it. But still, I couldn’t help but wonder. Since I am part of this problematic generation, how much of this behaviour am I guilty of?

This was on my mind at work today. It was a dreadfully slow night, and I was done all my real work about two hours before quitting time. As I was making idle busy work for myself, my gaze soon wandered to the shipment of candy that had just come in. It was sitting all neatly stacked on an unused till, waiting for someone to put it out on the shelves. I began thinking to myself, “I’m bored. I’ve got nothing better to do. I could be putting out that candy.” But I didn’t. Sure, I put out a box of chocolate bars to make my boredom go away, but then I did no more. Why not?

The first reason I came up with as to why I didn’t was that it wasn’t my job. Usually it’s the cashiers who do that, and they are just as bored as I am right now, so they should be doing that. But then, I have seen other baggers putting away candy, so perhaps it is part of my job. But then, everyone says I’m the best bagger and no one really likes the other baggers. So, by not doing it, I must be doing something right. What it all boiled down to was it’s not my job; somebody else does that.

The second reason I came up with was that it wasn’t in my job description. My job description says I bag groceries, return unwanted merchandise to the shelves, and take out the garbage. I don’t do anything more unless someone tells me to. No one’s telling me to put out the candy. No one is telling me to do it.

The third reason has become my general purpose reason for everything I don’t want to do at work: “I have two university degrees and am smarter than three-quarters of the management. Why I should be busting my ass for stupid superiors and a company that doesn’t give a flying fu…n filled trip to Disneyland about me?”

So, I guess, the true question here is how did I get into this mind-set? How did I first start thinking that if no one tells me to do it, then it must not be my job? The answer, I’m afraid, will cause some demographics to hate me. When I went to the movies a week ago, the child next to me spilled his extra-large Pepsi all over the floor, with a great deal of it washing up on my shoes. The boy’s father said, “Oh, don’t worry. They’ve got a person who mops that up.” The little girl in the row behind me said, “Grandma, what do I do with my empty wrapper?” The Grandma said, “Oh, just throw it on the floor. They’ve got people who sweep that up.” Yup, like the spoiled brat that I am, I am blaming my parents.

Think about it. We are the first true generation raised with the video babysitter. We are the first true generation of latchkey kids. We are the first true generation where both of our parents were at work, and we’d come home to find step-by-step instructions on how to make supper stuck to the fridge door. We have to have our jobs spelled out for us because that’s how our parents raised us; with an itemized list on the fridge door. Now that we are in the real world, we don’t know how to come up with that next step because our authority figure, a boss, a teacher, whatever, isn’t telling us what it is. They assume that our education should have given us the smarts to figure it out. But it hasn’t because we are also all very immature (more on that in a later column) and we need our parents to spell it out for us.

And tell me, when you were eight years old, and you forgot to turn the oven on, what would happen to you? Your mom would come home, have a little snit, then turn the oven on and get supper going. What would happen when you forgot to put away your toys? Your dad would come home, step on one of your LEGO blocks, say a few colourful words, then put them away. When we deviated from the list, we weren’t punished. We were shown that someone else would do the job. Of course, there would probably be some sort of lecture about the importance of the list, and then these things you forgot to do would be highlighted on the list, or added if they weren’t there before.

We were raised by itemized lists on the fridge door, resulting in the need to have everything spelled out for us. And we were shown that when a job is not on the list, someone else will do it. We have become a generation of followers, not leaders. We have become a generation that leaves a task half-done, because the other half is not on our list. And if it was our task, it’ll be on the next list. And now, we’re passing this behaviour onto the next generation.

I hate to blame the parents, because it seems like such an easy way out. All I have right now is an entertaining theory. But there’s one thing I know for sure. The cycle must end before we pass it on to our kids. So I urge you, I implore you, when you are at work, always go that extra step. Always do that next step, even if it isn’t on your list. And, when someone else, doesn’t take that next step, kick their asses. We have to start learning that there is more to the job than what is on the list. Take out the garbage TO THE DUMPSTER. Take the papers to the shredder AND SHRED THEM. Take the meat downstairs AND PUT IT IN THE DEEP FREEZE. And being a supervisor means more than watching them from your truck. I’m pullin’ for you. We’re all in this together.

The Adventures of the Procrastinator!

Chaos in Print

So, I’m lying here in bed, gazing at me ceiling, wondering how I should spend my lazy Sunday afternoon. I have stacks of work for the Stony Plain Liberal Association that I should be doing. I got that new book for Christmas that I could be starting the second chapter on. I should be washing my work clothes for tomorrow. The cat is meowing. He probably wants to be fed. But all of that doesn’t seem as important as lying right here and staring at the ceiling.

It’s a wonderfully dull ceiling. My bedroom has been in a state of half-completion ever since my family moved into this house. Hell, I lived in this room for three years before I knew the luxury of a door. For three years, I had a curtain. Having no ceiling panels, when I look up I see the assorted beams that form the foundation of the house, and sitting on top of those are bare sheets of plywood that form the other side of the living room floor. Through the plywood, I can hear Mom vacuuming the living room floor.

The living room was, up until recently, our home’s little own Christmas wonderland. Lights adorned the windows, twinkling and sparkling at all those who walked down the street. Standing right in front of the window was our tree. Tinsel and glass ornaments would catch the light from the tree’s lights, and scatter it through the branches like some sort of festive prism. In the corner sits the little wood stove, in which I’ve recently taken delight. Both my parents have mumbled in annoyance at how hot I can get the fire. When I’d get the fire crackling hotter than Hell, I’d lay on the couch and stare at the ceiling.

The roof of our house is only about half a foot thick, and we have no attic to speak of. Just six inches of cedar shakes keeping the elements off of our heads. You stare up at the bare wood and you can see the knots and cracks of the wood that shelters us. This once mighty cedar, which withstood the ravages of time, fell victim to a lumberjack’s chainsaw. From there, it was floated down a river to a sawmill, and its aged corpse was unceremoniously hacked into planks of equal length. And those planks now form my roof. It’s a wonderfully thin roof. True, while the thinness is murder on the heating bills, it’s perfect for a summer’s rain. You are able to hear every raindrop hitting the roof, and it produces this very relaxing, soft rumble. You can just turn of the TV and get lost in that sound.

Above that roof are the clouds. We are familiar with the water cycle, and I’m sure we’ve all been taught that clouds are made of water. Why, then, if the clouds are made of water, do they not fall from the sky? I once read that clouds, in fact, do fall, but since their terminal velocity is only 0.3 mm/s, the fall is not noticeable. When I was a child I dreamt of touching the clouds; of playing in them; of soaring in and among them. They were warm puffs of cotton candy, just waiting for someone to come along and play in them. But now, sad reality sits in. Clouds are frigid water, constantly falling out of the sky, in a very cold place. Any attempt to frolic in them would result in my frozen body falling back to Earth. And so I push higher.

Above the clouds lies the ozone layer. If you’ve been living in a cave on Mars for the past few years, the ozone layer is, well, a layer of ozone in the upper atmosphere. It has the unique property of reflecting otherwise harmful ultraviolet rays back out into the depths of space. But now, this protector is degrading. Years of abuse of our planet have caused this hero to weaken, and the enemy will soon come flooding in and destroy us all. Or will it? There has been debate that it’s not our pollution that has caused it to deteriorate, but that it is all part of a natural cycle that repeats itself over decades. We can’t confirm this because we’ve only had the technology to monitor the layer for the past 40 years. Have we destroyed our planet to the point of no return, or is Mother Nature just punching a reset button? We know not.

Above the ozone layer lies the Moon. Earth’s only natural satellite, and the only other interplanetary body that the human race has visited in person. Long throughout our history, we have gazed up at it and wondered of its origins. If memory serves, the ancient Greeks believed it to be the chariot of a god, and it was pulled by four silver stags. Science says that it could be an asteroid, that drifted too close to the Earth and got trapped, or it’s just leftover material that clumped together from the birth of our solar system. And then, we set foot on it. It always amazed me that we, as a race, can look up at the Moon and say, “Been there, done that.” There were ambitious plans for the Moon. When we first set foot, NASA stared concocting long-term plans that involved building the first lunar colony in the mid-1980’s. But, the U.S. government deemed that going back to the Moon wasn’t necessary, because we beat the Russians there. And still, the Moon sits lifeless. But on every night, the Man In The Moon gazes down at us with a welcoming face, inviting us to return.

Above the Moon lies the Sun. The Sun is the giver of all. Every millijoule of energy on our planet has come from it. Without its light, we would exist in perennial darkness. Without its heat, we would exist in perennial darkness. Without it, we would die. And yet, the sun itself is dying. Like all energy sources, it is slowly depleting itself, and science says that it will eventually turn into a star called “a red giant.” Its mass will expand, engulfing the Earth, or, at the least, making it inhospitable. Of course, this won’t happen for another 5 billion years, so feel free continuing to bask in its warmth, knowing it won’t turn on you until you are dead and buried.

Above the Sun lies the stars. Billions and billions of stars, each one existing in different colors and energy levels. Each one continues its cosmic churning of atomic fusion, giving off levels of energy that we are only beginning to be able to calculate. Each one just continues about its business, giving no care of what else might be out there. Each one then lives, then dies, with no concept of what else might be going on out there.

Above the stars lie galaxies. Other galaxies; other gatherings of stars just like our own little stellar community. Each one is incredibly far away, and as vast as our own. The exploration of other galaxies remains a dream even in Star Trek.

And above the galaxies lies the edge of the universe. Oh yes, the universe does have an edge. When Einstein incorporated time into his equations as a fourth dimension, he showed that the universe is spherical; as though it exists in a big bubble. And what lies above the edge? Nothing? Everything? Perhaps, even God.

My mind can’t comprehend this, and so I crash down to Earth. Again, I find myself lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling. I stare up, and see bare plywood. I should be doing something. I will do something. Soon.

In The Year 2000

Chaos in Print

Look back at the year just ended. If it doesn’t invoke tears of either joy or sadness, consider the year wasted. — John Cage, on an episode of Ally McBeal

I was reading this article in the paper about a year ago. They were talking about an undertaking by the U.S. Military. There are these sections of New Mexico desert where they did all their nuclear testing. The area is so radiated, that it’s not safe for humans to enter until the year 10,000. The problem the military had was how do you design a warning sign that will be just as easily readable 8000 years in the future as it is today? You can’t just stick it in English because English changes. Anyone who read Shakespeare in high school will attest to that. Experts say that only 12% of our current English language will comprise “next generation” English in the year 10,000. So what was the military to do? Some suggested that they should use instinctual archetypes; make the area just look incredibly unpleasant and people will stay away. Think of the brambles that surrounded Sleeping Beauty’s castle and you’ll get the image. Others said that they should do nothing. Then, as people wander into the area and die, they’ll get the message. What the military eventually went with was simple granite monoliths, 50 feet high, placed at 100 foot intervals around the site’s perimeter. Inscribed on each monolith, in the top six languages of the world, is the warning “Keep Out Until The Year 10,000,” along with pictographs of what will happen if you wander in. But I’m already straying off topic. What stuck out in my mind were the “worst case scenarios” that futurists came up with to render any such warning useless. The ones that stuck our were: a cult will consider the site to be holy ground, and die en masse on their first pilgrimage; in the year 9,982 we will all be cyborgs, and a glitch in our programming will cause us to march lemming-like into the site. And, my favorite, the Earth will become female dominated, and the warnings will be dismissed as “foolish male thinking.” Still, even with all these warning signs and predictions, you have to agree that the year 10,000 is a long way off. Like the year 2000 used to be.

When we were all children, the year 2000 seemed to be such a long time away. When someone mentioned the year 2000, we all conjured up images of flying cars, moon colonies, and robots to cater to our every whim. Oh, and not just the year 2000. When I was in elementary school, I was enraptured by this book about the future. Did you know that the hottest selling Christmas gift in 1990 was/will be wristwatch TV’s? Didn’t you get yours? Even look at Star Trek. According to the original series, from 1992-1996, we were in the middle of the Eugenics Wars; a world war fought primarily with genetically engineered soldiers. The leader of these soldiers, Kahn Noonien Singh, even became dictator of 1/4 of the planet! The war eventually ended when Kahn was overpowered, and he and his most loyal followers boarded the sleeper ship Botany Bay, to start Kahn’s new world at a Mars penal colony. But, the ship got lost in space, and Kahn and his crew were in suspended animation until the 23rd Century. With all this going on, it soon occurred to me that all the wonderful technology of the year 2000 wouldn’t just go online on January 1, 2000. It would start popping up around the mid-90’s or so. So, I began looking forward to my flying cars and robots to start appearing around 1994.

It was still 1984 when I was imagining all this. At this age, my brother sat down and did the math. He calculated that, in the year 2000, I would be 23 years old. Wow! 23! I would be a grown up! I’d be all done with school and living in my own house! I’d have my own TV and Atari and record player! I’d probably even have a wife and kids: two daughters and a son. ( I don’t know why, but every time I imagine my family, I have lots of daughters. Too much Disney, I guess. A widowed king with an only daughter. But I digress yet again.) They would stay at home and lead a life of luxury as I was an expert in my chosen career: railroad engineer. Not an engineer who builds railroads, but a person who drives trains. Yup, the year 2000 would belong to me.

And now, as I write this, there are only 5 hours left in the year 2000. What seemed so far off is now almost over. No Eugenics Wars. No wristwatch TV’s. To quote a favorite TV commercial from a few months back, “Where’s my flying car? I was promised a flying car!” But that’s not the big disappointment. No, the big one is that I’m here, and it’s nothing like I ever imagined. No wristwatch TV’s, but we’ve got DVD and PC’s. No kids, no wife. Instead of my own house, I’m still living at home, fretting that I’m going to have to put the DVD player on hold again so I can go to the dentist and find out why this molar has started throbbing. I’m looking at what I predicted for myself, and wondering what wrong turn did I take? Let’s do a quick comparison: prediction vs. reality.

Predicted: Having own TV, Atari, and record player.
Reality: Having own TV, VCR, PC, CD player.
Advantage: Reality

Predicted: Railroad engineer
Reality: Overeducated bagger; treasurer of the Stony Plain Liberals; amateur webmaster
Advantage: Reality

Predicted: Wife
Reality: Virgin
Advantage: Prediction

Predicted: Two daughters and a son
Reality: A dog and a cat
Advantage: None

Predicted: Own home
Reality: Living with parents
Advantage: Reality. Think about it! I’ve got no home-owner worries!

Predicted: Flying car
Reality: 1996 Dodge Neon, borrowed from parents
Advantage: Prediction

The winner: Reality

So, the question now is, did I really take a wrong turn? Granted, the future is tough to call and I shouldn’t beat myself up over the imaginings I had when I was 7. But still, I at least thought I’d have seen a naked woman by now. It makes me wish I went drinking every Thursday back when I was in university. Then, maybe I’d have met some slutty freshman girl and work though this problem. But again, I stray off topic. When I brake it down, the year 2000 was pretty sweet.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all this, it’s that it’s incredibly hard to predict the future. In this morning’s paper, I was already reading a bunch of articles with the topic “Will 2001 be like 2001: A Space Odyssey?” The answer right now tends to be an overwhelming “no,” mainly because NASA isn’t planning any manned missions to Jupiter right now. What’s that line from Back To The Future? “No one should know too much about their own destiny.” I’ll quit anticipating and just take things as they come. I’ll leave predicting the future to the U.S. military, and our female overlords (overladies?) of the year 10,000.